What can we learn from the rise and fall of Revolv?

The Internet of Things is a term first coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton to describe the concept of how internet connected devices would play a part in our daily lives. Now, this doesn’t necessarily refer to devices like smartphones, but to “things” such as heart monitor implants, animal tracking chips, and cars with built in sensors; anything that can be assigned an IP address and provided with the ability to connect to a network. Back then, this was a revolutionary concept, one that brought to mind futuristic settings like those of the Jetsons. In recent years, this concept has been picking up, becoming more and more mainstream as the technology improves. And like the Jetsons, this technology has spread into the automation of our homes, connecting everything from our home security systems to our crockpots and pet food dishes.

The Revolv Revolt

One of these home automation systems is Revolv, a wireless hub that allows you to control 3rd party home automation components, like smart switches and sockets, through your phone. In 2014, Google bought the rights to Revolv, saying that they intended to direct the company’s talent towards their “Works with Nest” smart-home system. Shortly after the acquisition, they stopped selling the $300 hub, and in February of this year, a year and a half after they acquired the company, Google announced they were terminating Revolv.

All this over a device the size of a container of hummus. Bag of chips not included.

In approximately 90 days from the announcement (on May 15, 2016), the service will be going offline permanently. However, the announcement didn’t get much attention until April 3rd, when Arlo Gilbert, the CEO of the medical app company Televero, wrote an impassioned blog post about it. The blog highlights the fact that this isn’t just a case of a program simply dropping out of support with a few bugs and security issues left unresolved; they’re going to be essentially bricking people’s home automation solutions as both the hub itself and the app will stop functioning on that day.

Needless to say, there are a lot more people who aren’t happy about this than just disgruntled Revolv owners who are losing their smart-homes.

You see, the problem with this, more than anything else, is that it sets a very dangerous precedent in regards to the Internet of Things, which already has a few issues to deal with as a new, emerging industry. As of right now, it suffers from a lack of industry standards; almost every smart device comes with its with its own app that controls its operation. Many of the companies that are producing smart devices are also startups, and many are crowd-sourced, so finding the funding to maintain support for devices is difficult. When products have unstable life expectancies, it makes investing in smart products more than a little risky.

The Repercussions

But the end of Revolv isn’t a case of a small company simply going under; this is a deliberate decision on Nest’s part to completely nullify a product with nothing more than a 90 day warning that, according to Gilbert, wasn’t even broadcast to Revolv users. He only found out about it by visiting the website to follow up on a support ticket. If it wasn’t for him voicing his frustration publicly on April 3rd, it’s very likely that a number of Revolv users would have had their hubs deactivated without prior knowledge of why (it’s possible that even some of you reading right now are only learning about this for the first time).

An infographic displaying the Product Lifcycle. Image courtesy of chennaiitpro.net
The management of a product’s lifecycle is a continuous process that doesn’t just end once the product is released for sale. Image courtesy of chennaiitpro.net

As Gilbert points out in his blog, this move represents a massive breach of trust. When consumers buy a product, it’s expected that it will last until it breaks. While most software is not expected to be supported as long as Windows XP, which was in support for over twelve years, many people still expect their old software to work long after new versions are released. Google deactivating the Revolv app and hub goes beyond that, and while this is an inconvenience, not a life-threatening move, it raises some important questions.

Namely, how long is a company responsible for the performance of a product? Lifecycle management is a topic we’ve touched on before at Deep Core Data, but the message bears repeating. While the Internet of Things has a number of other issues it needs to work through, there’s one thing this incident has made clear: there needs to be more transparency when it comes to the intended lifespan of a software product. 

Planned obsolescence is not a new concept, but clearly defined and publicly available support lifecycle plans are only going to benefit companies more as time goes on. By disclosing the amount time a company intends to support a product, as well as release updates, they will engender a sense of trust in their customers that will make them more willing to invest in commodity items such as smart-devices.

What do you think this means for Nest and the IoT as a whole? Nest in general seems to be facing some challenges, will this incident prove fatal to the company? How will this affect the Internet of Things as an industry? What support and lifecycle management responsibilities do you think a company owes its customers? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About the Author:

Andrew is a technical writer for Deep Core Data. He has been writing creatively for 10 years, and has a strong background in graphic design. He enjoys reading blogs about the quirks and foibles of technology, gadgetry, and writing tips.

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